This is a verbatim drama based on interviews with a number of men who go to ‘chill out’ parties or, to be perhaps slightly more accurate, ‘drug-fuelled orgies’. As it starts off it seems as if it’s going to be a basically sensational tale of hedonistic gay men and the hijinks they get up to. There’s a comic discussion of the North/South divide (Northern orgies are friendlier than the ones in London), stories of days lost to ‘partying’ and the character who, getting a measly three condoms from his local GUM clinic, tells the nurse ‘that’s not going to last me the tube ride home, love’.
But as the evening progresses darker, more interesting themes emerge. The whole racism on grindr topic (‘No Asians – no offence, just not what I’m into’) is covered, as is the choices men make about putting themselves and others at risk of various STIs. But more than the damage these men can possibly do their bodies, the play is not afraid to ask about the psychological damage a seemingly continual round of sex and drugs can do.
Some of it is, to be frank, pretty disgusting. And at times I wondered if maybe the interviewees had perhaps exaggerated their stories. One character talks about the excitement he felt walking home from a chill out with – and look away now if you’re squeamish – come oozing out of his arse. But his confession about then eating the ooze on the way home feels like a piece of grand guignol. And another man confesses he likes going with guys who have gonorrhoea as it improves the ‘gloopiness’ of their ejaculate. (After one particularly horrific revelation a member of the audience practically shouted ‘Oh my God’ with the outraged horror of a Lady Bracknell.) Of course it’s also possible that the director lucked out and just happened to get hold of the country’s most depraved gays. This naturally leads to questions about just how representative these stories are. You wouldn’t look at the effects of alcohol consumption by focussing solely on those drinking a litre of vodka a day. Surely there exists men who go to these chill outs maybe once a month or a couple of times a year. I’m sure they’d tell a completely different story.
The most interesting character is that of a Pakistani man who feels duty bound to marry a woman and produce kids. It seems that despite having sex with men the marriage sort of works. Of the performances Elliot Hadley stands out being utterly convincing as a man who can’t resist the lure of sex and drugs whilst having no illusions to the potential problems of this lifestyle.
4 Guys Chillin’ is interesting and complex; it’s certainly not preachy and shows the thrills and the rush of modern sex parties without being an advert for them.
Continues until May 25 at the Basement, Kensington Street.
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